How much cash, real estate and paid staff does it take to produce a follower of Jesus?
“No one can truly know Christ unless they follow him daily in life.” — early Anabaptist Hans Denck
Most of us Mennonites operate from the conviction that we should do everything possible to pass on the faith to our children, no matter what the cost.
But have we focused too much on financially costly programs and institutions to accomplish this — and too little on things that are more costly in terms of personal sacrifice?
Consider the example of Jesus. His work of nurturing young disciples required almost zero financing, but cost him everything in terms of time, energy and his very life.
Today we tend to outsource many of those efforts to church professionals and church institutions.
EXAMPLE A: Since the mid 20th century, we have invested in more and more expensive real estate for our weekly worship services, Sunday school and other programs to nurture people in the faith, all of which tend to utilize a lot of building space (and are used for a very limited periods of time). More recently, it’s become more common for congregations to hire paid Christian education persons and part time or full time youth and young adult pastors, all of whom use professionally produced Sunday School, Bible School and other study curricula.
Task A: Figure out how much of your church’s budget goes for the above discipling efforts, including cost of building maintenance, curriculum and the amount going for staff salaries and support. Then figure what the approximate monetary cost is per youth and/or young adult benefiting from these programs.
EXAMPLE B: Mennonites appear to have more professionally run church-wide institutions dedicated to educating our young than do most denominations of our size. Among these are state-of-the-art church camps, Christian elementary and high schools, and Christian colleges and seminaries. The unusual numbers of these great programs are partly due to the merger that created Mennonite Church USA, and the tendency of institutions, for better or for worse, to make every effort to preserve and perpetuate themselves.
Task B: Check your church’s budget to determine your financial investment in parachurch organizations and institutions focused on nurturing and discipling our young. Compare that to the rate of giving designated for the church’s mission beyond itself, and how that compares to past church budgets.
Finally, add up the total numbers and come up with an estimated average cost of raising one Mennonite follower of Jesus from childhood to adulthood in your congregation, including his or her attendance at Mennonite or other Christian educational institutions.
Next, compare that to the financial cost of discipling one young believer in the first century church, or one Anabaptist believer in the sixteenth century, or one Mennonite World Conference member in the Global South, or a young believer in an Old Order Amish or Mennonite community.*
Note: I’m not saying that spending some or all of this money is necessarily a bad thing, only that we consider how to best use our resources in ways that best demonstrate Jesus’ approach to disciple making. The work of making disciples is always costly, and sometimes may indeed involve some substantial financial investment.
But are we overlooking other even more demanding and costly ways of raising Jesus-followers? For example, what impact would it have on our young if they observed us being engaged in some of the following:
– Congregational members demonstrating a radical commitment to reducing personal possessions and making huge investments in worldwide relief and service efforts.
– Paid staff members voluntarily living on lower salaries, and encouraging others to follow their example.
– The church, both locally and as a denomination, placing a moratorium on investing in more real estate or paid positions until the rest of a world in need catches up with our standard of living.
– Having a growing number of members embrace a lifestyle akin to those of people like St. Francis of Assisi or a Mother Teresa — or the lifestyle of Jesus and his apostles, who exhorted his disciples to leave all behind and follow in his steps?
Perhaps there is no more effective way of enlisting and training faithful Jesus followers than by our actually following in his steps, costly as that may be.
Which may make what we are doing now seem really cheap in comparison.
And sadly, too many of our teens and young adults don’t seem to be especially impressed by it.
*Footnote: The Amish, without any church buildings or paid staff, and with no overt efforts at evangelizing, are growing at a very rapid rate, and according to a recent Mennonite World Review article, will soon have four times as many members as MC USA. Part of that is due to having larger families, but even more important is their 85 percent retention rate, well above our own.
Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.
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